More on Muddling Through – Harrison Owen

Thanks to the powers of self-organization and griefwork — we have been muddling through. [this is from my notes from a workshop by Harrison Owen – The Practice of Peace]

Muddling Through

with Self-Organization & Griefwork

We people so like to think we are following a rational approach! We’re great with the hard facts, not so with the warm fuzzies.

It’s rational, at some level, to define problems and fix them. This is an approach. Beware! There are unintended consequences.


… the dynamic inter-relationship of complex forces, productive of wholeness, health and harmony.

Can we invite the whole system?  AND accommodate the fact that each part is always transforming, moving, connected and connecting in new ways? Things look different from every point of view. Each part is holding a piece of the puzzle.

1 person – body, mind, intellect, soul, spirit (and more!)

groups – tribe, kingdom, nation, globe, unity

aspects of life … health, education, recreation, jobs, politics, economics, etc.

to do that requires a transformation of consciousness.


makes things complicated, painful and dangerous! Folks at different stages don’t understand each other. What they DO understand, they usually don’t like. (intellect calls the body stupid, body calls intellect a snob).

This is a job for …


√ deal easily with massive diversity
√ comprehend mind-bending complexity
√works simultaneously on multiple levels
√ rises above chaos, confusion and conflict
√ tolerates tidal waves of change √mixes all of the above to produce wholeness.
√ never loses their cool

um…. who fits this description?

Self-Organization + Griefwork –> Muddling Through

Everything is wrong, yet it comes out right! You blow it big time, and all is well.

Complex Adaptive System (Murray Gell-Mann)


Preconditions for Self-Organization

nutrient, safe environment

diversity / complexity

search for fitness

sparse prior connections

edge of chaos

Open Space Experiment

There is

a real issue of concern
Diversity of players
complexity of elements
presence of passion
decision time was yesterday

Experimental Results

high learning

high play appropriate controls  and structure » Genuine Community happens every time.

Happens all by itself, and it happens every time.

Conclusion:   The power of self-organization energizes the deep process of transformation. From the moment of the Big Bang until this present moment we, and the whole cosmos, have been led on the path of genuine community. It is our search for fitness with ourselves and with our environment. It is the way of peace — as wholeness, health and harmony. And it happens all by itself.

How many can do this? How many can let go, but not give up?
And, how do you let go of the pain?


As chaos, confusion, and conflict do their work, things come and go. They end. They die. All part of the natural order, the deep process of transformation.

How do we let go of pain? (chaos, confusion, conflict, ending/death)

For a peaceful life, include pain and transcend!

Anger/shock » Denial  » Memories  » Despair (pain) » Silence (Open Space “What are you going to do with the rest of your life?”) » Vision  » On to the New!, until the next Anger/shock (etc.)

This reminds me of Satir’s change model, where an event throws things into pain/chaos, which continues until the transformative idea comes along, after which things re-organize to a higher level of coherence.

What’s good about

Chaos – It opens some space in the old order so that new things may show up.

Confusion – Muddles made-up minds so that new thoughts may enter.

Conflict – Sharpens new ideas and appraoches making New Ideas Good Ideas!

1 Purpose – Wholeness, Health and Harmony

…Effective Organization

Peacemaking – Hold Space. Responsibilty. Being.

Leadership – Open Space. Passion. Doing.

 When Peace is Threatened, Open Space

3 Caveats

√  never work harder than you have to.

√  Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.

√  Never, ever think you are in charge!

Begin with an Invitation

… for everyone who cares

being graciously spacious

make space for passion and responsibility – it’s messy, it’s the E of creativity

4 Principles

√ whoever comes is the right people

√  whatever happens is the only thing that could have

√ whenever it starts is the right time

√ When it’s over it’s over.


If you find yourself in a situation where you are neither learning nor contributing … use your 2 feet.  Sticking with it is a favor to noone.

This is a very BIG now, so a lot can happen. Another key practice is expanding the now (meditation)
If we’re so concerned by the plan we’ll miss what’s happening now. Now is all we have. The past is gone, the future has not happened.
The bigger the NOW, the bigger the return.

 When there is nothing to be done

be a silent witness


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