Deep Democracy Institute


Deep Democracy is the philosophical basis of the Process Work and Worldwork Paradigm, a psycho-social-political theory and methodology. The term Deep Democracy was developed by Arny Mindell in 1988 and first appeared in Leader as Martial Artist (Mindell, 1992). Mindell, a physicist from MIT and Jungian Analyst, has researched and written extensively about how awareness interlinks with reality and how we perceive it on different levels, creating different frameworks of reality.

An example of this is how we perceive time: the measurable reality of the seconds ticking in a clock, the dreamlike "subjective" perception of time as it passes during an encounter with a lover - or during a conflict with an opponent - and the sentient essence of timelessness at the moment of sunrise that transcends "known" time (if only for a moment) and replaces it with the concept of a hopeful future. Mindell calls his paradigm Processwork. He formulates these principles and demonstrates how they can be used to facilitate individual, relationship, and group transformation in many of his books. 

In the late eighties, Mindell started to formulate these principles as a philosophical approach that he called Deep Democracy. It has become best known for some of the following concepts:

Unlike "classical" democracy, which focuses on majority rule, Deep Democracy suggests that all voices, states of awareness, and frameworks of reality are important. Deep Democracy also suggests that all the information carried within these voices, levels of awareness, and frameworks is  needed to understand the complete process of a system. Deep Democracy is an attitude that focuses on the awareness of voices that are both central and marginal.

This type of awareness can be focused on groups, organizations, one's own inner experiences, people in conflict, etc. Allowing oneself to take seriously seemingly unimportant events and feelings can often bring unexpected solutions to both group and inner conflicts.

Although the term and the concepts of Deep Democracy are now being used by various groups in different ways, Mindell formulates their common denominator: Deep Democracy is the experience of a process of flow in which all actors on the stage are needed to create the play that is being watched.

Deep Democracy is a natural process that occurs in all community building processes, but often goes unnoticed or un-used. Just as conventional democracy strives to include all individuals involved in the political process, Deep Democracy goes a step further in the effort towards fostering a deeper level of dialogue and inclusiveness that makes space for all people (with the individual right to vote) as well as all various and competing views, tensions, feelings, and styles of communication - in a way that supports awareness of relative rank, power, and privilege, and the potential of these forces to marginalize other views, individuals, and groups.

Deep Democracy and Process Work Paradigm

Process Work integrates concepts from quantum physics, psychology, anthropology, and spirituality into a new paradigm and methodology that has many applications. Mindell defines process as the constant flow of information, manifesting in events that are connected by an underlying organizing principle reflecting many universal laws. Process Work is a widespread approach with applications in collective transformation (change management), individual transformation (psychotherapy), medicine, physics, law, politics, leadership development, and art.

Mindell coined the term Deep Democracy to describe the importance of developing awareness of and appreciation for all levels of experience. Deep Democracy further formulates quantum mechanics in terms of the relationship between the observer, the event, and the method of observation.  It is a radical new way to think about reality, and shines a new light on the relative value of scientific and philosophical approaches that try to explain reality by focusing on single-dimensional aspects, but fall short of addressing the phenomena of all dimensions.

Mindell formulates the process of observation on three separate awareness levels: the measurable, objective, and readily expressible aspects of our experience; the non-measurable, subjective, and expressible aspects; and the deepest, inexpressible ones. Deep Democracy recognizes the equal importance of consensus reality issues and concerns (measurable objective descriptions of problems and people), dreamland figures (roles, ghosts, directions), and essence experiences (common ground) that connect everyone. It shows how we can experience the universe more fully by valuing equally all of the various aspects of our awareness.

For example, in the area of collective transformation and organizational change, Deep Democracy includes the idea that awareness of all these levels can bring valuable information to groups and leaders, by helping them to discover "The Process", the multi-dimensional direction that is hidden from the linear everyday state of mind. "The Process" is the principle that organizes the dynamic flow of voices and roles - including our collective experiences of altered states, subtle feelings, and behavioral and somatic tendencies. Awareness of the background process allows us to see the whole picture and brings forward a new understanding of existing conflict and problems, including business issues, and allows new organic and spontaneous solutions to organizational or community problems. Focusing on immediate goals is important, but including information available at the deeper levels of our awareness brings the most stability to the system, and often creates spontaneous and surprising results.

Impact of Deep Democracy

Deep Democracy has had an enormous impact in many areas over the last twenty years. The concept of Deep Democracy is now being used by many scientists, social activists, politicians, transpersonal psychologists, and organizational development communities. Many individuals, groups, and political leaders have studied with us and are applying these concepts within their own fields. Several politicians have also started to use the concept, including the US consumer rights czar Ralph Nader, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Several other groups have intuitively isolated one single-dimension of the broad multi-dimensional theory and application of Deep Democracy, such as the realization that majorities cannot sustainably rule over minorities, but need to build dialogue with them, or that democracy must also include a feeling level to be sustainable. We welcome this development and appreciate the power of the paradigm: even the application of one single aspect of the original theory can assist to discover how process organizes life, and how the flow of process has a self-organizing direction of its own, with its own innate wisdom.

We at the Deep Democracy Institute value the diverse implementations that have taken place, and support groups to further develop those aspects of the original theory that are important to them. We believe that Deep Democracy is such a rich paradigm with so many applications that over time, we will begin to see additional groups teach and further develop Deep Democracy in their own unique ways. We also welcome those groups that isolate partial or single aspects of the work and specialize in them. We invite all of these groups to network with us, and we feel supportive of their work. On the other hand, we ourselves are proud that together with the founders and our colleagues, we are researching and working closely at the cutting edge of development with the original body of theory, and the full application of Deep Democracy in all areas of life.

Evolution of Deep Democracy

”The most fundamental forum is your own heart. Both as a facilitator and as a human being, you must learn to hear yourself there.” Arnold Mindell, "Sitting in the Fire", 1995

Deep democracy has many aspects, many of which relate to philosophical concepts derived from quantum physics. Deep Democracy at its deepest manifestation refers often to an openness towards the views of other people and groups. It also embraces emotions and personal experiences that are most often excluded from conflict and rational public discourse (Mindell, 1992).

Deep Democracy has crossed over into many fields and has been picked up by many authors, some using it as defined by Mindell, others using only particular aspects (as it is often the case with crossovers). For more information, please see our Deep Democracy and DDI page.

One of the primary concerns of Deep Democracy is the use, maintenance, and awareness of metaskills, a concept developed by Amy Mindell (attitudes and feeling tones underlying our skills). The concept of openness to diversity and dialogue between various views doesn’t mean that the facilitator goes along with what the group wants—that is only one metaskill (although it often reflects a lack of awareness). Facilitators must also practice, embody, and express other metaskills such as toughness, anger, intractability, love, detachment, concern for the well being of the others, and a genuine desire to achieve consensus. Some of the metaskills in the above mentioned list are organic responses. However, when a facilitator uses her internal organic responses to better inform her intervention, she is using a metaskill. This is why the human development (the internal psychological and spiritual growth) of the facilitator is so important.

Deep Democracy involves not only openness to other individuals, groups, and diverse views, but also an openness to experiences including feelings, dreams, body symptoms, altered states of consciousness, and synchronicities as well as an awareness of signals, roles, and the structural dynamics of the interactions between parties involved.

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