Back to Research:
An Inquiry into Experiences of Collective Resonance
(c) 2003 Renee
see also The
This document is intended to provide a brief but
comprehensive summary of my doctoral dissertation research. I endeavor,
in these pages, to convey the essence of the 315-page original effort
for those readers who are less inclined, by virtue of time or interest,
to read the academic document. Especially shortened are the review
of literature and the findings sections in which, in the original,
references to supporting research and many direct quotes are included.
I hope, however, that the wholeness of the work has been preserved
It is also my intent to invite the reader’s
personal experiences of collective resonance to come forward. If
it happens that something in this writing reminds you of a time
of resonance in a group, any group, and you are willing to share
it, I would like to know about it. The research continues in the
form of a growing collection of remembered stories, and each one
that comes forward amplifies the entire field. Please contact me
at the address listed on the last page of this document.
If you would like to know more about the stories
referenced in this research, share your own perspectives, order
a copy of the complete dissertation or additional copies of this
summary, or inquire about potential funding for further research
in this area, please refer to the contact page also at the end of
TABLE of CONTENTS
[click on any heading]
We are at a crossroads in human evolution.
We have arrived on the doorstep of the 21st century in great global
disarray. Anxiety, hate, terrorism, and war are the pervasive
themes of our time. We live in fear, and our dealings with one
another reflect this undercurrent. We mistrust others in personal
dealings, and group dialogues on important issues that affect
our collective future are marked by skepticism and competition
for perceived scarce resources. Our media capture and magnify
it all—every unsettling detail—live and 24/7. This
is dissonance: collective dissonance.
Even so, occurrences of resonance between individuals
and within groups happen every day in situations in which people
come together and experience intimacy and bonding, a felt sense
of being in the flow or transcending, personal transformation,
and sometimes the satisfaction of accomplishing extraordinary
This is group magic, and these are the experiences
that inform this study. They are extraordinary, but they are also
ordinary in that they happen every day in all kinds of contexts
and to people like you and me. They are difficult to describe,
but we know when they have occurred. It is in the space between
us, something beyond the level of intellectual exchange and felt
in a different way than as a meeting of the minds. It is
a meeting, but one of a different sort: it is a meeting of hearts,
of souls, of energies, and memories, and although this group magic
exists in the realm of physical space and time, it may reflect
a dimension beyond the immediate interaction.
These experiences occur more frequently than
we may know. They do not sell newspapers and therefore may go
unnoticed in the course of a busy life, but they need to be brought
to light and to be understood better because they serve as guideposts
that point to ways of working and living together that sustain
human life and spirit rather than destroy it. They are points
of light that illuminate the way to a better world than the one
in which we entered this century. The stories of these experiences
need to be told in the voices of the individuals who have experienced
This study gathers and interprets experiences
of collective resonance, the name I have given to the
magic that is possible in group life. In it I explore the broad
range of contexts in which people report experiencing this phenomenon
and the many levels of connection that operate in them, including
energetic, physical, intuitive, emotional, and spiritual as well
as intellectual. I discovered in talking with athletes, military
men, dancers, educators and students, construction workers, singers,
police officers, corporate executives, weekend fishermen, and
many others what the experience of collective resonance feels
like, what they believe shifted their group into resonance, how
significant the experience was for their life or work, and whether
a similar sense recurred during the remembering and retelling
of their stories.
Bringing this information to light is important,
I believe, for two main reasons. First, by having access to examples
of collective resonance, readers of the study may be able to recall
similar encounters in their own lives, which will in turn raise
awareness that it is available to us all and that its effects
can be transformative. I also believe that increasing conscious
recognition of felt experience actually amplifies the positive
energy field around and between human beings and can affect decisions
that lead to right action in the world.
Second, by understanding the components of such
experiences, methods and practices can be created to help design
and facilitate groups in ways that enhance the possibility of
the emergence of resonance, again in service of decision-making
that moves our societies forward, but also for the intrinsic satisfaction
and joy that can heal the wounds already inflicted by a dissonant
The human spirit is not measured by
the size of the act but by the size of the heart.
~~Billboard sign presiding
over Ground Zero commemoration ceremony,
New York City, September 11, 2002
Collective resonance is, by my definition,
a felt sense of energy, rhythm, or intuitive knowing that
occurs in a group of human beings and positively affects the way
they interact toward a common purpose. The word resonance
means “re-sound,” which indicates a flow of vibration
between two things, in this case two or more people. This study
focuses on this aspect of group dynamics. Greater awareness and
amplification of this level of connection between people and between
groups and other, larger forces, I believe may help us find our
way back to the knowledge and experience of our fundamental connections
to one another and our environment and make greater progress toward
our common human goals than we have been able to do using idea
exchange and analytic problem-solving alone.
The word resonance has been used in
many disciplines and in a variety of ways. In the following paragraphs
I mention its meaning in the psychological and spiritual realms
and focus on its definition in physics. A more extensive review
of the literature, including related current research in the organizational
arena, can be found in the complete dissertation. I want to note
that there are other fields of research and practice in which
the concept of resonance is central, most obviously in music,
but these are not explored specifically in this research.
In the psychological realm the word resonance
primarily connotes empathy and empathic connection. For example,
the phrase “I resonate with that” commonly indicates
an understanding or acknowledgment that the person has had a similar
experience. In the spiritual realm, particularly in the Eastern
traditions, resonance is central not only in terms of connection
to the divine (through practices such as meditation in which a
sense of unity with the universe may be experienced) but to human
health and vitality because these philosophies (particularly the
Indian, Chinese, and Japanese) are based on a system of energy
and energy centers that affect wellness. This inquiry, although
remaining open to all the connotations of the word resonance
used by its participants, focuses on the physical and energetic
aspects of group interaction and how they correlate with the natural
laws of physics.
When human beings are in physical proximity,
they interact on many levels. One is a rational/cognitive level
in which ideas are exchanged primarily by way of words or gestures.
The medium of exchange is largely symbolic in that whatever the
person is feeling or thinking must be put into a communicable
format such as language or facial or hand signals.
Another level of interaction occurs as an energetic
connection between two or more individuals. Their bodies are also
sending messages to one another through the medium between them—usually
air—because each is vibrating constantly and affecting the
electrostatic field around them. This vibration occurs because
every cell (actually every atom and molecule) in the human body
vibrates constantly (Childre & Martin, 1999; Cooper &
Sawaf, 1997; Gerber, 2001; Hunt, 1996; Judith, 2001; Leonard,
1978; Lynch, 2000; Pearsall, 1998), and when they are organized
into parts of the human body—organs, glands, muscles, and
so on—they send rhythmic messages into the surrounding environment
as vibrations. Some of these vibrations are audible and many are
not, but all are perceptible to other living systems near the
person in the form of sound wave interchanges. The human heart,
in particular, sends audible vibrations into the surrounding environment
but also affects the other vibrating elements within the body,
acting as a kind of organizer of the frequencies of the vibrations
of the other organs, tissues, and the cells that comprise them.
Collective resonance is
a physical level of connection, facilitated by vibrational
exchange, that operates constantly whether or not we are
communicating verbally or are even aware of its existence.
It is based on the laws of physics.
Each sound wave forms based on
a combination of many frequencies. Some of the frequencies are
multiples (harmonics) of one fundamental frequency particular
to that object (e.g., a human body). Resonance is highest when
the fundamental frequency is “heard” but even multiples
of that fundamental frequency (harmonics) can create resonance,
though the effect will be smaller.
It is the pattern of vibrations that, in the
human being, feels most natural, hence, comfortable (and many
times, energizing) and might affect the way in which the person
ideally operates (by amplification of that state). Within the
human system, such a state might be felt as a sense of harmony
or being “in tune.” When waves are in tune, or have
a fixed-phase relationship, they are “coherent” and
build on each other. Meditative states are examples of this kind
of resonance within the body and have been advanced as healing
practices for cardiac and other bodily dysfunctions.
Resonance is also the phenomenon of the transmission
of vibrations from one vibrating body to another in the absence
of any contact with each other. This process can be understood
as the impact of one vibration on another. Sympathetic vibration
and forced resonance are terms for the phenomenon of
resonance when the vibration of one body is altered by the vibration
of something external to it (Nagata, 2002). In other words, bodies
vibrating in close proximity affect one another in potentially
different ways. One way is that the stronger of the vibrations
overpowers, in a sense, the weaker signal, as in the case of the
heart’s vibration regulating the other parts of the human
system. Another is a situation in which the natural resonance
of two or more vibrating bodies “lock into phase”
or entrain with one another to produce a kind of harmony or coherence
between them that not only feels natural but actually amplifies
their connection. In physics, two sound waves of approximately
the same frequency (or harmonic of the other’s frequency)
will eventually entrain, or come together, and cause an increase
in the amplitude of the wave. The energy transfer within the resulting
system is considered optimal because the energy that comes to
and from each oscillating (vibrating) body is natural to it. Itzhak
Bentov (1988) called this a resonant system.
It is worthwhile to mention, at this point, the
concepts of consonance and dissonance, which are related to but
not the same as resonance. Consonance means “harmony; accord
or agreement, harmony of sounds; a simultaneous combination of
tones conventionally accepted as being in a state of repose”
(Nichols, 2001, p. 435). Dissonance, defined by the same dictionary,
is “disharmony; inharmonious or harsh sound, discord, cacophony;
simultaneous combination of tones conventionally accepted as being
in a state of unrest and needing completion; unresolved; discordant
chord or interval” (p. 570). Unlike consonance, in which
two or more frequencies combine to create harmony, resonance occurs
when the wavelengths are exactly the same, that is, when two wavelengths
of similar frequencies come together as one. I think it is interesting
to note that in physics, dissonant waves are regarded as incomplete,
unresolved, and seeking completion (or repose), whereas resonant
waves are defined as having attained a state of rest.
a specific fundamental frequency is created by any other
object in the neighborhood of the original object, the original
object responds to that frequency and that response is called
Applying the laws of physics to
human interactions, one might wonder what are the effects of two
or more individuals interacting with one another when the resulting
“system” is resonant. What, exactly, does this resonance
feel like to the individual human beings involved? How is it experienced
and where (in the body)? What is the “product” of
such gatherings? In what situations do they occur? What is meant
by resonance when it is applied to human energy in group situations,
especially natural resonance? These are some of the questions
that arose for me as I read about the physical properties of resonance.
They prompted this inquiry on the phenomenon I call collective
As mentioned earlier, my own definition of collective
resonance is a felt sense of energy, rhythm, or intuitive
knowing occurring in a group of human beings that positively influences
the way they interact toward a common purpose. I believe
that experiences of collective resonance are common but are not
often brought to conscious (cognitive) awareness. They are felt
experiences of synchronous connection, as in the physical sense,
that affect the energy exchange in a situation and influence the
outcome of whatever purpose the group is gathered to achieve.
I believe that they are felt in a very powerful way although,
again, they may go unnoticed in the course of a daily routine
that is dominated by intellectual interchange and unrelenting
activity. References are made regularly to awareness of this energetic
layer of interchange in random or offhanded remarks, usually in
other contexts, and these returned to me as I explored more deeply
the stories within which these phenomena are reported to have
This study highlights collective episodes
of resonance. This is because it is embedded in the domain of
organizational systems, a domain in which I, as author, am a participant
as a consultant and researcher. My interest is in resonance as
a group phenomenon and how a deeper acknowledgment and
understanding of it can inform the way that we as human beings
can live and work together for a greater good. I do, however,
expand the traditional definition of “organization”
in this work to include any kind of group that interacts together
toward a common purpose. Some group experiences described herein
were work groups in the traditional organization development sense
whereas others were not. Examples are groups whose purpose was
to have a good workout, reach a particular meditative state, win
a game, learn about a topic, give a performance, or enjoy a leisure
activity together. I intentionally chose this design because my
purpose was to explore a little-known domain. I think it is vital
and ultimately more beneficial to the organizational systems field
of inquiry and practice, where I believe it will have significant
application, to stay as open as possible to reported characteristics
and value of experience in many different venues. It is the essential
constructs of experiences of collective resonance that I wished
to illuminate, and I found commonalities in the way such energetic
exchanges are described that transcend the type of situation in
which they occur. In this way the study also models a holistic
approach to the topic and can later be evaluated for its service
to the organizational world.
Although there has been inquiry in the organizational
learning arena into deeper levels of human connection in group
situations in the works of Bohm (1980, 1985), Isaacs (1999), Senge
(1990), and others that acknowledge a “felt presence”
in groups (a kind of implicate order that resides in the collective
and informs it), they stop at the level of intra- and interpersonal
interactions (how to do and be in groups so that maximal learning
can take place for individual and group effectiveness), in my
opinion. Briskin et al.’s (2001) study explored the field
of collective intelligence and set the stage for this one in that
it uncovered experiences of rhythm, sound, and movement in felt
experiences in groups. This suggests that there is a physical
level that coexists with rational or psychological exchange and
understanding. Although a pilot study that I conducted on this
phenomenon in a single group experience from multiple perspectives
was initially titled An Inquiry Into a Phenomenon of Collective
Intelligence, I renamed it An Inquiry
Into a Phenomenon of Collective Resonance
to highlight the physical and energetic aspects of such experiences,
not the intellectual ones. The current study, likewise, attends
to these elements of experience. My approach, then, highlights
both the collective and the resonant aspects
of collective resonance.
Thirty-two contexts in which collective resonance
was reported to have occurred are included in this study. Although
I interviewed 34 individuals, three described one particular situation
and were interviewed together. In selecting the contexts, I emphasized
maximum variety to discover whether there were common themes and
to encourage readers of the dissertation from all walks of life
to relate to the experiences. It was important to me that the
results not be perceived as representing a particular group of
people or a certain mindset, background, or other categories of
The group situations included three or more individuals
gathered together for a specific purpose. The study excludes groups
that were formed for illegal or violent purposes, such as street
gangs. Although resonance can occur between two individuals, this
inquiry was directed to experiences of group resonance because
it lies in the domain or organizational systems, as mentioned
earlier. The findings are intended to help guide those working
with or living within group situations.
Collective Resonance Contexts
Following are the 32 collective resonance contexts
and a brief identification of the person interviewed from that
A construction crew working together over a period of years
building homes in rural Maine. The interview was with one
of the crew members.
The volunteer effort based at St. Paul’s Chapel in
lower Manhattan that was organized to support the relief
workers searching for victims and cleaning up in the aftermath
of the September 11, 2001 disaster at the World Trade Center.
This project lasted for nine months. The interview was with
one of the coordinators of that effort.
A strategic planning retreat in which two recently merged
social service agencies with different organizational cultures
met to create a vision of their future. The interview was
with the human resources director of the new, merged, agency.
A United States Air Force unit stationed in the Philippines
for many months evacuating military personnel and their
families and guarding the abandoned base after a volcano
eruption. The interview was with a sergeant in the unit.
A Friends meeting for worship in the Quaker tradition.
The interview was with a church member who is also a consultant,
author, and facilitator of corporate management groups.
This person spoke of collective resonance in both contexts.
A small soup shop where employees work together efficiently
to serve customers at very busy times (e.g., lunch time).
The interview was with the manager of the shop.
A family context in which one member, a young woman, was
dying of breast cancer, leaving two children, numerous siblings,
parents, and extended family. The woman, desiring a conscious
dying process, asked her friend, my interviewee, to be present
at family gatherings and situations surrounding the various
phases in her three-year ordeal. She described several of
these gatherings as collective resonance.
The campaign team of a United States senator’s run
for the presidency. The interview was with the manager of
the campaign team.
A dance class. The interview was with a new member of the
A police officer in an arrest situation at gunpoint with
seven suspects. The interview was with the officer.
A high school English class. The interview was with the
A five-year effort to establish a new children’s
museum from conception to opening of its doors. The interview
was with three core members of the founding team.
A deep-sea fishing expedition with six men. The interview
was with one of them.
Women’s groups gathered for different purposes related
to women’s issues. The interview was with the facilitator
of these groups.
A community-building effort between blacks and whites in
rural Mississippi in the mid-1970s. The interview was with
a member of the consultation team that conducted the project.
A group of craniosacral therapists learning technique involving
the energy of dolphins in the waters of the Caribbean. The
interview was with a cofacilitator of the training.
The offensive line of a football team. The interview was
with a lineman.
A group of international political and business leaders
gathered to discuss peace initiatives throughout the world
and their lack of success. The interview was with a cofacilitator
of this group.
An Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. The interview was with
a member of the organization.
A workshop for corporate executives on developing breakthrough
leadership skills. The interview was with a magazine editor
who observed and wrote an article on this process and later
participated in another workshop.
A graduate school intensive course on a particular psychotherapeutic
technique. The interview was with the creator of the technique
and founder of an institute that provides clinical services
The same graduate school intensive course as above. This
interview was with one of the students in the course.
Two thought-leader gatherings designed to exchange ideas
and dialogue on issues important to the participants. The
interview was with a corporate consultant who was a member
of one group and facilitator of the other.
Three people, relative strangers, stranded on a sailboat
in the fog on a planned weekend sail to Nantucket. The interview
was with one of them.
An ongoing evening study group meeting designed for dialogue
and meditation on Christian values. The interview was with
a group member.
A college male a capella singing group. The interview was
with a student member and pitch for the group.
Large corporate gatherings designed as retreats for strategic
planning. The interview was with the creator of the particular
technique used, one of the original founders of the professional
field of organization development.
A spiritually based movements class using ancient sounding
and movement exercises. The interview was with a member
of the class.
Groups of people in which music, sound, and vibration are
used as a facilitation technique to uncover themes important
for their work together. This interview was with the creator
of this technique and facilitator of the groups.
A retreat for business leaders to discuss a new business
paradigm, gathered in the weeks after September 11th. The
interview was with a cofacilitator of the retreat.
A meeting of the coresearchers of a doctoral dissertation
research project that inquired into the transformational
journeys of business leaders. These eight people had been
interviewed in depth and narrative poems had been created
about their lives. This meeting was designed to share these
poems and to enable further transformation among people
who, for the most part, had never met. The interview was
conducted with the doctoral student researcher.
A 10-week graduate course on leadership involving storytelling.
The interview was with the professor and cocreator of this
The parameters around the diversity of
these experiences were:
• Some were spontaneous, and others
• Some were small gatherings, and some
were very large;
• Some were work-oriented, and others
were volunteer, academic, athletic, or leisure-based;
• Some were gender-specific, and others
contained mixed genders;
• Some were speaking or dialogue-based,
and others were centered on physical movement;
• Some were conducted in silence, and
others were organized around or involved sound;
• Although all had a purpose for the
gathering, some were task-oriented with specific and measurable
goals, and for others the raison d’etre was the gathering
• Some occurred in difficult or dangerous
situations, and others were in pleasant ones;
• Some were intellectual in nature, and
others were body-based; and
• Some were specifically spiritual in
intent, and most occurred in secular situations.
are we really saying when we notice that we are “on
the same wavelength” with someone else, that two people
seem to be “in synch,” or that something “sets
the tone” for something else?
Several factors motivated and
informed this study. First, there was a desire, on my part, to
uncover occurrences of this phenomenon to confirm my suspicion
that they are more prevalent than assumed because they exist below
the level of conscious awareness. This proved to be the case as
evidenced by the relative ease with which I was able to locate
participants for the study. I ended up with more potential interviewees
than I was able to accommodate for this research,
and I continue to gather stories that emerge
from readers of the work. This “bringing to awareness”
illuminates unarticulated experiences that are more widely occurring
than we know and encourages further study and thought by giving
the phenomenon credibility because of its prevalence.
Further, uncovering the diversity of types of
collective resonance experiences that people report is important
in that it shows itself to be a phenomenon to which many different
kinds of people in many kinds of group settings can relate. As
the common elements of collective resonance experiences begin
to be uncovered, the relevance of the phenomenon and its accessibility
to many types of people in many types of organizations may become
The bringing to conscious awareness of felt
experience may have the effect, perhaps, of doing something else:
that is, strengthening the field of resonance existing between
individuals and groups on a broader scale. Knowing how we resonate
with one another on energetic and vibrational levels and with
larger fields of intelligence, we may be able to engage our minds
more consciously in the vibration, which could serve to actually
strengthen the field, much as the two wave forms of similar frequency
mentioned earlier entrain, or “lock into phase” with
one another, oscillating at the same rate and increasing in amplitude.
We already know how human beings flow, or resonate, with an activity
in which they are engaged (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). This paper
can be seen as being about flow experiences between people and
how collective flow may interact with larger fields. Also, because
the act of retelling the incident of collective resonance in the
interviews resulted in a recurrence of the felt phenomenon in
almost all of the interview situations, that occurrence itself
strengthens the existing field. This aspect, though not measurable
in traditional ways, was a motivating force in this study.
Although the above factors serve to broaden our
understanding of this phenomenon by involving more and different
experiences, another intent was to deepen existing awareness and
work in the theory and practice of organizational systems. There
are already individuals and groups working to understand this
arena. By identifying and elaborating on the components and characteristics
of these experiences, I hope to contribute to giving form to this
effort. Greater understanding, it is my hope, will help establish
this field of inquiry, create tools for academics and practitioners
to use to cultivate collective resonance more consciously in group
situations, especially those that make important decisions that
shape the future of our world, and give rise to new questions
that will give direction to further research.
Our selves, our organizations, and our world,
I believe, have gotten out of balance, out of harmony. One of
the key elements of systems theory is balance: all parts are essential
to optimal systemic functioning, and a state of harmony keeps
it together. The key element in the Eastern philosophical traditions
is harmony or balance. In my opinion, we have put too much emphasis
on cognitive processes to make decisions and solve problems—the
rational, linear part of our human systems, personal and organizational.
We have ignored a vast resource, our physical selves, which continually
access information from the environment surrounding us and inform
our work together. To learn from this resource we need to begin
to listen deeply to ourselves, to others, and to the universe
By bringing attention to, and, I hope, action
toward using our physical selves to access other sources of intelligence,
we can work toward achieving a state of health. We can bring into
better balance the logical, rational, and linear mind-sets and
the intuitive, feeling, energetic ones. The word health means
“whole” or “wholeness,” which is the ideal
state to which we aspire personally, in groups and organizations,
and as a world.
resonance occurs in unexpected venues, from people working
together in paid or volunteer organizations to gatherings
whose purposes are problem-solving, recreation, self-improvement,
or comfort from devastation. The gatherings can be small
or large; spontaneous or planned; gender-specific or mixed
gender; dialogue, sound, or movement-based; or conducted
in total silence.
Choice of Method
This inquiry was conducted using
a combination of human science methodologies to provide the greatest
amount of reliable information. The primary approach is phenomenological,
complemented by participant observation. Phenomenology is the
systematic attempt to uncover the meaning of lived experience.
It is based on the belief that objective understanding is mediated
by subjective experience of the phenomenon and that human experience
is an inherent structural property of the experience itself.
Because this study was designed to elicit experiences
of collective resonance, including energetic, intuitive,
emotional, psychological, physical, and spiritual connections
as well as intellectual ones, it includes the practice of participant
observation in its design. In the physical presence of the interviewee
I could most effectively gather the nonverbal and energetic information
I sought, including data such as voice, gesture, energy level,
and other expressions of feeling. Because of time and distance
factors I conducted some of the interviews by telephone, which
limited but did not eliminate the gathering of some aspects of
resonance from the communication.
The participants included individuals who indicated
that they had experienced the phenomenon of collective resonance
as described to them using the definition I articulated earlier
in this paper. No specific parameters were given in terms of type
of experience, when it happened, or who was involved. In some
cases I used examples to spur their thinking. When I sensed intuitively
that there was recognition on the participant’s part of
the topic being researched, I invited him or her to briefly describe
the situation to me. I then made a judgment on whether to invite
them formally to participate in the study.
Participants were identified by way of personal
contacts and suggestions from individuals either working in the
field, such as colleagues, clients, fellow students, members of
the Collective Wisdom Initiative, and dissertation committee members,
or they were identified by me either directly or by referral.
Some emerged, seemingly randomly, from my daily life. Approximately
one-third were individuals who indicated academic or professional
interest in the subject prior to the study in the form of writing,
research, or applied forms such as acting as facilitators in group
settings. Two-thirds were individuals from diverse settings who
indicated they had had an experience of the phenomenon but who
had not had a specific interest in it prior to the interview.
All participants were apprised of the purpose
and procedures of the study and signed a consent form prior to
being interviewed. All interviews were audiotaped and lasted approximately
one hour. Each participant had access to the audiotape or transcription
of the findings of the research study. There were no parameters
in terms of gender, race, ethnic or religious affiliation, profession,
or geography. All participants were 21 years of age or older and
speak English. All identifying factors were changed to ensure
anonymity and participation in the study was entirely voluntary.
About half of the participants were male and half female, and
the age range was approximately 21 to 75 years of age. There was
a range of ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds although
I kept no specific data on this.
The sole researcher, myself, has been involved
in the organizational systems arena for more than 12 years as
an organizational development consultant, 6 years as a graduate
student in organization systems, and 8 years as an employee in
the private sector. I have had the opportunity to experience the
phenomenon being studied here, resonance in groups, as a facilitator
and by way of personal participation. Though infrequent, these
occurrences of collective resonance fueled my interest in deepening
my own understanding of its components and characteristics as
reported by others who claimed to have had similar experiences
and contribute to the emerging field of knowledge about this phenomenon.
The themes that emerged from the interview data
resulted from my personal interaction with the data. Each transcript
was read and reread multiple times with notations identifying
the messages that I felt were being communicated about the elements
of experience, the shifting factors, the significance of the experience,
and the present moment felt sense. Likewise I listened to the
audiotapes multiple times to help remember the energetic aspects,
tone of voice, and nonverbal interview experience. Groupings and
categories of experience formed across the interviews and became
the findings of the research. In each category I included only
those themes that were shared by at least one-third of the diverse
set of collective resonance experiences, with one exception. This
was not intended to minimize other elements of experience, shifting
factors, or significances as every experience is unique and valid,
but to highlight commonality and maintain clarity of communication
of the findings.
This study was partially funded by the Fetzer
Institute’s Collective Wisdom Initiative. It is related
to the work of this initiative in that it explores more deeply
one aspect of the experience of collective intelligence and spiritual
wisdom identified by their 2001 study, Centered on the Edge:
Mapping a Field of Collective Intelligence and Spiritual Wisdom.
(Briskin et al., 2001).
This section presents the results of the study
in four categories: elements of experience, a description of what
collective resonance feels like to participants; shifting factors,
or what was noticed by participants to have shifted their group
into resonance; significance of the experience, or how important
it was to the participants’ lives or work; and recurrence
of the phenomenon, or a description of whether the felt sense
of the original experience reoccurred during the interview. For
the first two categories—elements of experience and shifting
factors—a visual graphic is included, and for all categories
I have presented a narrative description. The complete dissertation
includes numerous verbatim quotes from participants that support
the narrative summaries reported here.
All findings reported were shared by at least
one-third of the participant population with the exception of
one element of experience, Total Presence, which was included
because it was closely linked to another element. Although I believe
that all reported aspects of experience are important and valid,
there is special significance in the fact that some were widely
shared among such a diverse group of individuals and experiences.
It is these widely shared components that will also inform the
creation of applications for more conscious cultivation of collective
resonance in groups. The order of reporting of the specific findings
in the narrative is descending, with elements of experience or
shifting factors that were most widely shared reported first.
Elements of Experience
The 14 descriptors below illuminate how collective
resonance felt to the 34 study participants:
• is felt in the body,
• contains movement and rhythm,
• involves emotion,
• is felt as a connection to others,
• involves a felt sense of movement of boundaries,
• is high energy,
• includes touch and close physical proximity,
• requires a shift out of the cognitive and
• is felt as a connection to self,
• feels calm, grounded, and relaxed,
• feels like an altered state of consciousness,
• contains awareness of an energy field,
• is felt as a connection to spirit, and
• requires total presence.
A visual map (Figure 1,
below) of the above elements of experience and a concise explanation
of each appear below. The full dissertation contains more discussion
and numerous direct quotes from participants that support each
Figure 1. Visual map of elements of experience.
word phenomenon comes from the Greek phaenesthai,
which means to flare up, to show itself, to appear.
Collective Resonance is Felt in the Body
In 31 of the 32 collective resonance experiences
described, there was recognition of a physical felt sense
accompanying the intellectual and emotional ones. Although
in Western society it is not typical to be aware of or focus
on the messages that our bodies give and receive in daily
life, when I asked specifically in this study, participants
were able to identify specific areas of the body almost unanimously.
The heart and upper torso area (including
back, lungs, and arms) was identified by more than two-thirds
of this study’s interviewees as the primary location
of physical sensation. Participants described the sensation
in myriad ways such as rhythmic quickening, expansion, connecting
with other hearts through “threads” or “cottony
connections,” and arrow piercing of an individual’s
heart. Tingling of arms and upper back relaxation, easier
breathing, and energy surges in the upper torso region were
other ways people described their sensations.
Another physical area identified as feeling
sensation were the eyes, with 8 participants reporting this
phenomenon, 7 of whom associated it with greater clarity of
understanding or comprehension.
An overall body sensation was another shared
aspect of the experience. Several participants mentioned a
feeling that their cells were affected, usually in terms of
expansion or opening, letting go, or relaxing, whereas others
reported an all-over experience of bodily memory of another
time, tingling, peacefulness, a “certain vibration or
resonance,” wholeness, or “an immersion, almost.”
memories are more than photographs: they’re body memories;
they’re emotional memories; they’re printed
on every part of me.”
Collective Resonance Contains Movement, Rhythm,
A reference to movement, rhythm, or flow
appeared in nearly all of the interviews in this study. As
such it was, after identification of physical body sense,
the construct of experience that was most widely shared. In
some contexts, movement, rhythm, or flow that contributed
to collective resonance happened when they were consciously
designed into the group context. In some it occurred spontaneously
from a somewhat sedentary situation, and for still others,
movement was an inherent part of the task of the group, such
as physical work or exercising, and was identified specifically
as contributing to collective resonance. Also, participants
identified times when movement, rhythm, or flow shifted a
difficult group environment into resonance and other times
when it emerged within a group that had been previously connected
emotionally, psychologically, or spiritually. The use of language
that conveyed movement, rhythm, or flow, such as the experience
having “a spiral quality,” was also identified
in this study as contributing to that felt sense, even when
the context itself did not contain any physical manifestations
of these phenomena.
the energy in the room is felt energy. There’s movement
. . . . There’s dynamism. There’s an energy
that uplifts and an energy that calls forth. Movement is
a byproduct of what’s happening.”
Collective Resonance Involves Emotion
An emotional component of the experience
of collective resonance was identified in 27 of the 32 interviews.
In keeping with a Webster’s Dictionary definition of
emotion as “a state of feeling, the affective aspect
of consciousness . . .” (p. 271), I use the word emotion
in this section of findings to denote those aspects of human
awareness of experience that are involuntary and arise from
a different source than rational, cognitive thinking. Some
of the participants in the study identified these emotional
components of experience in a general way, whereas others
were very specific about what kind of emotion it was. Almost
half of the people who identified emotion mentioned that they
were also aware of a shift in focus that moved the individual
“out of the head” and was necessary, they believed,
to feeling the resonance in groups.
In addition to referring to emotion in a
general way, the specific emotions mentioned widely were joy
(16 of 27 interviews), gratitude, appreciation, empathy, compassion,
and love. Laughter and fun were mentioned repeatedly and were
included in the category of joy.
Negative emotions were not articulated as
an element of the collective resonance experience itself but
several participants described these—anger, frustration,
fear, and others—as part of the group experience leading
up to a shift into resonance. As the air force sergeant said,
“Sometimes things get so bad that they become funny.”
It is important to note, too, that during
many of the interviews, emotional expression, usually in the
form of tears or pauses in speech, was involved. This, for
me, was also an indication of the importance of the experience
to the interviewees and substantiated the recurrence of the
original felt sense in some cases.
people had tears come to their eyes in being received in
such a deep way.”
Collective Resonance is Felt as a Connection to
A strong felt connection with others in the
group was a commonly expressed element of the experience of
collective resonance. Of the 32 interviews, 25 contained references
to this feeling. Three of the interviewees indicated that
they had had a prior connection to the other members of the
group, usually in the form of satisfying personal friendships,
but the vast majority of the study participants who identified
this aspect of the felt experience of resonance did not know
the other members of the group very well. The connection was
made within the experience, and several mentioned that it
carried forward in the form of ongoing friendships or work
together after the group experience.
Although some of the participants spoke
of connection in a general sense, there were two main ways
that people expressed their felt experience: a feeling of
belonging to the group and an acknowledgment of commonality
or similarity with the others.
realized . . . well, maybe it comes back to what I didn’t
realize . . . it’s about that whole connection, about
connecting with each other. I realized that I needed connections
and I hadn’t had those connections. And I thought,
‘For crying out loud, what a waste of my life!’”
Collective Resonance Moves Individual and Collective
The experience of movement of personal and
collective boundaries was a pervasive phenomenon reported
by participants. In 23 of 32 interviews, participants referred
to a felt sense of shift in their perception of self, the
group, or self within the group. They fell into four main
categories of experience:
• Participants who experienced
a sense of expansion of their individual boundaries
Fourteen interviewees reported that
while in the experience of collective resonance, they
felt a distinct sense of their individual selves growing
larger or expanding out to the group boundary and sometimes
beyond. Some described it as a physical expansion, that
is, their body or cells in the body felt larger, and some
felt emotionally, psychologically, or spiritually expanded.
• Participants who experienced
a sense of expansion of the group’s collective boundary
Six interviewees mentioned a felt sense
of the group’s boundary expanding into something
larger. They experienced the group itself growing bigger
or transcending its own space.
• Participants who experienced
a sense of collective oneness
These participants described a felt
sense of oneness or unity that emerged from the coming
together of separate selves in the group situation. In
most cases the reported experience was one of dissolution
of personal boundaries and the adoption of the collective
boundary as one’s own. For some, the reported sense
of unity went beyond the group and referred to collective
in a still larger sense.
• Participants who experienced
a sense of individual boundary simultaneous with a sense
of collective boundary
In addition to those people who experienced
collective resonance as a sense of oneness, many described
it as an experience of simultaneously maintaining one’s
own individuality while coming together to form a group
gestalt. These people acknowledged that for them, a sense
of group resonance was not diminished by the maintenance
of their individuality and uniqueness and, for some, deepened
both experiences. For some participants, the simultaneous
holding of boundaries was seamless and easy, and others
expressed more difficulty in shifting from a felt sense
of self to group and back again.
collective resonance and the individual resonance were in
Collective Resonance is High Energy
This category was difficult to name because
there were so many ways in which participants referred to
this phenomenon. Some mentioned a sense of aliveness, and
others described a kind of power or strength that they felt
in themselves or in the group experience. Still others spoke
of excitement and of an awareness that some or all of their
senses were heightened or sensitive. The common theme, though,
is that there was a feeling of high energy in the room during
collective resonance and that participants experienced it
as a positive thing. More than two-thirds of the people I
interviewed reported this phenomenon as a part of their experience
and, thus, I consider it a significant finding of the study.
whole room had this incredible, high-voltage feeling.”
Collective Resonance Includes Touch or Close Physical
Reports of physical touch or close physical
proximity of participants were abundant in this study and
a significant factor in the experience of collective resonance.
Of 32 interviews, 18 included specific references to touch
or physical nearness and all of the situations or experiences
that were described involved face-to-face personal contact
among participants. Most occurred in small physical spaces
and a few were in larger ones—outdoors, for example,
or in a large ballroom or football field. Where people interacted
in larger spaces, the actual collective resonance is reported
to have occurred among small groups of people who were close
to one another. It is not a finding of this study that collective
resonance only occurs when people are physically gathered
because I did not include at-a-distance situations.
I gotta touch somebody so they can feel this way!”
Collective Resonance Requires a Shift Out of the
An important finding in this study was that
to experience resonance, participants reportedly made a shift
from the intellectual, cognitive, or brain-centered kind of
thinking that powered their everyday lives into a kind of
receptivity to physical, intuitive, or spiritual sources of
information or experience. By reporting these findings in
this way I do not mean to imply that the participants indicated
that the brain was disengaged in this process, only that the
focus shifted, for them, from a mind-oriented analytical process
to bodily, intuitive, emotional, or spiritual knowing.
Previously I mentioned that almost all of
the participants referred to a physical felt sense of experience.
Of these, 14—almost one-half of the total interviews—indicated
that to do this required a conscious shift from brain to body.
For some it required a process of letting go, a willingness—not
always easy—to release the thinking mind so as to experience
in other ways. For others the ability to shift from a mental
orientation was possible because they were doing a job or
task that was so familiar to them that it required little
analytical processing. These people mentioned that it was
in these situations that they noticed a different kind of
rhythm or sense of connection occurring.
think that what we’re talking about today is the truest
. . . form of who we are. I can betray my mind but I can’t
betray my body.”
Collective Resonance is Felt as a Connection to
More than one-third of the participants in
this study—13 people—noticed that in addition
to feeling a sense of collective resonance or group feeling,
they felt a connection with themselves during the experience.
One even called it individual resonance when she said, “The
collective resonance and the individual resonance were in
Several people described their inward journey
as an insight, sometimes sudden, sometimes emerging slowly,
about themselves. For one, the realization that the diverse
threads of his life experiences were coming together suddenly
to allow him to accomplish a seemingly impossible task was
a profound connection with himself. Other people referred
to healing—healing of themselves—as a result of
experiences of collective resonance.
it’s both. It’s the sense of my own connection
to my own Source, and it’s also a growing sense of
the connection with everyone in the circle.”
Collective Resonance Feels Calm, Grounded, and
Although a majority of the participants reported
an energized or highly charged state either personally or
in the group during collective resonance, about one-third
reported a very different feeling of calm, groundedness, or
relaxation. Most of these reports emanated from situations
that were not, by their nature, challenging or difficult.
Of the 10 situations, 2 could have involved fear or danger
but instead felt calm to the individuals who experienced and
then reported them. This leads me to include the felt sense
of calm, groundedness, or relaxation as an aspect of collective
resonance, not only a characteristic of the type of situation
was like things were spinning [in my head] when I walked
in but the centrifugal force of this spinning kind of spun
out and then suddenly there was nothing left there other
than just this calm presence. And that I was able to totally
focus on what we were doing right there in the room . .
. I felt so calm and safe . . . . I was pretty stunned.”
Collective Resonance Feels Like an Altered State
This quote is one of the ways participants
mentioned a kind of altered state of consciousness that occurred
for them during their experience of collective resonance.
There were many others—about one-third of the participants
in this study mentioned this phenomenon—and the metaphors
that they used were diverse and creative. All had something
to do with a form of separate reality from the usual way the
participants experienced group life. The most common characteristic
of the state of altered consciousness was a lost awareness
of time. Below are some of their statements, presented in
a way that I hope illuminates their variety and power:
It was like an immersion,
almost. (volunteer coordinator, September 11th relief effort)
We had been elevated. It
wasn’t an out-of-body experience, I mean I knew it
was me. But just for a while I was taken somewhere else
and acknowledging a different form of me. Of us. (Friends
meeting for worship)
It was almost like being
inside this really strange bubble . . . with these seven
individuals in this situation. (police sergeant in an arrest
situation with seven suspects)
There is an altered state
of consciousness that becomes riveting to the witness. (movements
It felt surreal then; it
feels surreal now. It almost feels like it never happened.
(air force sergeant stationed in the Philippines)
When we’re working
like that, it feels like we’re in the zone. (manager
of a soup shop)
It seemed like a spell.
(three people stranded on a sailboat in the fog)
It was almost as if I am
under a spell or something . . . like the magnet’s
pulling. (craniosacral therapist training in waters of the
It’s like you can
cut this sacred space with a knife . . . or hold it in your
embrace. (psychotherapist training a group of therapists)
My experience was . . .
getting a bear hug from the Holy Spirit. We were completely
at peace and enveloped by loving arms. (Christian study
sound . . . the sound . . . as I’m talking I can remember,
on the sidelines, there’s drums and there’s
yelling, and there’s bands…. And all of a sudden
a vacuum forms and you’re in this little world. Pain
Collective Resonance is Experienced as an Energy
About one-third of the participants in my
study observed that they sensed a kind of energy field surrounding
or enfolding their group during collective resonance. I have
included these comments in this section of the research findings
because each made specific mention of an energy field. Although
every individual described it differently they all clearly
communicated an experience of being in an energetic space
that was boundaried in some way. Their descriptions are graphic,
and although many expressed that they did not know what kind
of energy or presence was there, they were all convinced that
there had been some force within the space that influenced
the collective resonance that was felt by the group.
Energy fields were described as being influenced
by physical movement, a shift of focus from “the outside
world” to the inner one by “letting go,”
a willingness to suspend judgment in order to experience a
different reality, and conscious intent to hold a space in
which a field of collective resonance can emerge. One participant
suggested that energy fields can be experienced between people
at great physical distance and can be cultivated in a roomful
of people through one person’s conscious attention and
was a very condensed experience for just the eight of us.
It reminds me of the Wizard of Oz when the Witch of the
North comes in . . . that kind of bubble . . . it was all-inclusive.
We were all inside this bubble working on this particular
situation, experiencing it together.
Collective Resonance is Felt as a Connection to
In addition to a felt connection to others
and to self, about one-third of the participants in this study
acknowledged sensing an outside force or source during their
experience of collective resonance. Of the 12 occurrences
described in this way, 3 were in a religious or spiritual
context and 9 were in secular situations.
was there. Spirit was among us. Nobody spoke.”
This phenomenon was felt both individually
and collectively and was independent of the context of the
group, whether secular or religious. It was described as sometimes
entering the group through an individual, sometimes just suddenly
being there, and sometimes affecting the group by bringing,
or “guiding” the participant to the situation
in which resonance occurred. The spiritual component was also
described by some study participants as having more credence
because it was collectively felt. At times it was experienced
in traditional religious ways, such as in the form of the
Holy Spirit, and at others through nature or as an unnamed
but powerful felt force or feeling.
The comments in this section differ from
those in the section on collective resonance experienced as
an energy field. In these interviews, it is clear to me that
the participants were referring to a spiritual connection,
not a physical energy field that was the subject of the other
section. Although spirit was expressed in various ways—nature,
God, greater power, Other—the intent of the speakers,
I believe, was to express a sense of sacred or spiritual connection.
Collective Resonance Involves Total Presence or
About one-quarter of the participants in
my study mentioned that they felt fully present, engaged,
or in the moment during their experiences of collective resonance.
The reported complete immersion in the experience of the moment
precluded distractions of any kind. A few interviewees connected
this phenomenon with silence, such as in the process of deep
listening to someone else’s story. Although most reported
a positive experience, several suggested that being so fully
engaged was exhausting and welcomed the relief of action and
one of those special times when you know you’re in
the moment. If you’re not, you’re dead.”
One of the main purposes of conducting this research
study was to uncover what participants identified as factors that
influenced their group’s shift into collective resonance.
The reason for this interest is to understand these shifting factors
and determine whether they can be replicated in other group situations,
in organizations, for example, to enable collective resonance
to emerge. For all of the groups included in the study, there
were specific aspects of the experience that contributed to a
different way of being together or accomplishing a task together
that, for them, affected the experience in a positive way. These
factors were, in descending order of consensus, vulnerability,
silence, story, place/space, container contraction, shared intention,
truth, sound/vibration, and spirit. Figure 2, below, is a visual
map of the major shifting factors, and a concise explanation of
Figure 2. Visual map of shifting factors.
Shifting into Collective Resonance: Vulnerability
The most widely shared factor, with more
than two-thirds of the study participants reporting some form
of it, that influences the shift that a group makes into collective
resonance was an acknowledged feeling of vulnerability. In
my interviews, this feeling was expressed in personal contexts,
in terms of the individual or individuals feeling vulnerable,
and also as a characteristic of the group as a whole. In other
words, sometimes individuals reported that they felt vulnerable
within the situation and that this affected their own experiences
and the group. Sometimes the interviewee noticed it in others
in the group, and sometimes the entire group was reported
to have been feeling vulnerable because of a planned or unplanned
Vulnerability showed itself in various ways
in this study. In some cases there was a sense of not knowing
the answer, what was next, what to do, why they were there,
or what had happened. In other circumstances, self-revelation
was a sign of vulnerability, or a personal approach of openness
to learning and growth reportedly helped shift the group into
collective resonance. In still others, there were outside
factors, such as fatigue or illness, danger, difficult conditions,
or disaster, that influenced a sense of vulnerability in the
it came from not knowing, rather than knowing, what to do.”
Shifting into Collective Resonance: Silence
More than two-thirds of the participants
in this study referred to silence as a shifting factor in
their group’s experience of collective resonance. It
is thus a significant finding from this research in that it
was so widely shared an element of experience given the diversity
of contexts. Silence affected the group in three ways: (1)
as a time for individuals to acknowledge and connect with
one another and with themselves, (2) when it is collectively
felt as a necessary next step in the group’s process,
and (3) as a facilitation tool used by an individual to affect
In a few cases, complete quiet was a part
of the context in which the entire experience happened and
was identified as a shifting factor. In others, interviewees
mentioned the silence that they noted in an otherwise word-
or sound-filled environment. For some, silence was an indicator
of individuals acknowledging one another, listening deeply,
or feeling a sense of connection with them, whereas for others
it was a time to connect with themselves. Finally, there were
participants who described their silent time together in the
group as a collectively and tacitly understood next step in
their process. One individual shared how his own silence facilitated
groups into collective resonance.
shared [my story] and the silence afterward was really important.
It was a palpable sense of people holding me, holding my
story. And I actually get a sort of chill now just thinking
about it because I think that was the turning point for
me in the meeting . . . to have that silence to honor what
had just been spoken, so that someone else wasn’t
jumping in to fill the space, but everyone was just being
Shifting into Collective Resonance: Story
Half of the participants in this study identified
the use of story or storytelling as a factor in the emergence
of collective resonance in their group. Whether a storytelling
format was used consciously as part of the design of the gathering
or whether sharing of personal stories occurred spontaneously
or within another context—a task-oriented one, for example—the
effect appeared to be the same: to help shift the relationships
and connections within the group in a positive direction.
Knowing one another at a deeper level by knowing their story
or a part of their story and also learning about oneself from
the stories of others emerged as a significant finding of
they begin to speak with their own voice about their own
truth and their own experience, something happens . . .
they are communicating on this deeper level [because] they
are coming out of their own experience. There are no right
answers on these questions, there is only their unique experience.
Shifting into Collective Resonance: Place or Space
About half of this study’s participants
mentioned that they were aware that either the place, the
surroundings in which the group met, or the energetic space
between group members had a significant effect on shifting
into collective resonance. Some participants identified historical
or other significance of the place in which the group met
as important, whereas others noted the elements of the space
itself, such as its layout, aesthetic beauty, or location
in a natural environment. Two participants felt that the feeling
within the group occupying the space could be altered in some
way by ritual or intent. In each of these, in addition to
the psychological, spiritual, energetic, or emotional dynamics
that occurred between the people, a spatial element was identified
as a significant shifting element of experience.
building is a historic landmark, built in the 1700s.
It has an old, wooden, creaky floor. So there’s
that smell of old . . . sort of dusty, musty smell.
So always, that’s part of the experience of
entering that space. And when you sit down on the
wooden bench, it creaks. It lets you know it knows
you’re here. There are so many ways you’re
announced . . . it’s just such an incredible
Shifting into Collective Resonance: Container Contraction
One widely shared element of experience,
reported earlier in this summary, was a felt sense of expansion,
of feeling bigger, both individually and collectively. In
addition, some participants indicated that they felt a sense
of oneness, of the individual’s personal boundary dissolving
into the collective boundary. In this section, I share with
the reader one factor that I believe influenced these phenomena,
which is a contraction of the container, literal or metaphorical,
that held the group. Sometimes the container was tangible,
such as the walls of a room or walls of fog. Sometimes people
made the space with their bodies, such as a circle of people
standing or sitting. At times, the contracted boundary was
an experience or a feeling, such as peripheral vision narrowing
or a sense that the situation was being enacted in a bubble
or as a microcosm of a larger experience. Darkness, too, such
as at nightfall, was identified as contributing to a feeling
of the environment contracting around the individual and group.
now you are totally as if you’re embodied into your
own world. Encased, embodied, enveloped, held. When the
fog was this close, you couldn’t even see. You could
hear little boats going by, if there were any, but hardly
because it was too foggy for anybody to be out. But what
it’s done is it’s made you—your senses—you
can’t look at anything else. You only have each other.
Shifting into Collective Resonance: Shared Intent
“Shared intent,” “common
goal,” and “group purpose”: these were some
of the ways that participants in this research study communicated
their belief that an important reason that their group shifted
into what they called collective resonance is that there was
a strong, shared intent existing between group members. Sometimes
it was a common task that the group either chose or was given
to accomplish. Sometimes it was not a task per se but a desire
shared by participants. In some cases the collective intent
existed at the outset of the group’s time together,
or even prior to their gathering, whereas in others it emerged
during the process. In all, however, the fact that the members
of the group were in alignment on something that they wanted
from the experience was expressed in interviews as important
to the sense of collective resonance that was felt by the
individual interviewee. Almost half of the total number of
interviews included reference to shared intent as a significant
factor in the group’s shift into resonance.
was a common goal. People began to form, to put down [their
differences]. There was such an energy toward a common goal
. . . to get these people some food, to get these people
a safe place to go. And with that common goal always in
the center of the picture, people put down . . . the self-interest
just fell away.
Shifting into Collective Resonance: Truth
The perception that the participants and
others were connecting with their own truth and speaking it
in the group was a significant factor in the shift into collective
resonance, according to the one-third of my study’s
participants who mentioned it specifically. Truth-telling
in a general way and truth in terms of authenticity, or expressing
the essence of who one is or what one believes, were the two
main ways this theme was expressed. The content of the truth
was less important than the willingness to uncover what it
was and the perceived courage to speak it aloud in a group
Several participants noted that truth-telling
had a field effect in the group, that when individuals speak
from their own truth, it gives others permission to do the
same. One person elaborated on how being authentic can be
a leadership tool.
think it’s about speaking the truth. And when you
hear the truth, you relax. And if somebody says something
to you and it doesn’t feel like the truth to you,
whether it’s conscious or unconscious, you say, we’re
not on the same playing field here.
Shifting into Collective Resonance: Sound and Vibration
In about one-third of the experiences of
collective resonance that were described to me, participants
identified sound or vibration as a significant shifting factor.
These participants were aware of an energetic component to
the experience, an effect on the individual and the group
produced by the physical energy in either sound waves or movement
of air caused by the body or by vibration from another source,
such as a drum. In some cases the vibrational component was
an expected part of the group experience and in others it
occurred spontaneously and unexpectedly.
Four main ways in which sound or vibration
affected group process were through music or musical instruments,
through singing, through physical movement or vibration, and
through the human voice in speech. In two cases, facilitators
consciously use sound to affect group process. One sings or
makes sounds to amplify what she feels is called for in the
group at the time, and the other uses the sonic resonance
of dolphins when she therapeutically works with clients in
experience this resonance when you go to a concert or when
you go to a great musician or a great instrument player.
When someone plays a violin and there’s an audience,
you know, a thousand people, they all become one with that
Shifting into Collective Resonance: Spirit
Some form of spirit or spiritual connection
was mentioned by about one-third of the study’s participants
as contributing to the group’s shift into collective
resonance. Spirit was described in many ways, with some participants
acknowledging that they did not know what it was and some
putting it into a more traditional religious context. The
existence of an outside force, higher being, or sense of connection
to a larger source than one’s everyday reality was clearly
identified as a shifting factor.
This finding from the study differs from
spirit and spirituality as a felt phenomenon described earlier
as an element of experience. In that section I documented
the expressed aspects of what collective resonance feels like
according to the people whom I interviewed. Here, I present
a slightly different aspect that was communicated by my interviewees:
spirit as a shifter of the group. In other words, the people
to whom I refer here indicated in their interviews that it
was not only a personal or collective spiritual experience
but that some outside force actually affected the group’s
shift into resonance. Spirit was described in myriad ways,
including “that overwhelming thing that happens,”
“Other,” “Holy Spirit,” “higher
part of us,” and “higher power.”
Assigned Significance of Experience
form . . . I don’t know . . . like if anyone wanted
to call it God, like okay, cool, but something is going
on . . . aligning us . . . putting our music with our singing
with our group dynamics . . . Everyone is just, like, aligned.
A large majority of
participants in this study reported that the experience or experiences
of collective resonance, described to me in their interviews,
significantly affected themselves, their relationships, their
work, or their lives. Although a few indicated that the experience
deepened an already existing understanding or practice of resonance
in their work or life, the vast majority claimed that important
insights or changes resulted from their experience and affected
the direction of their lives.
The insights or changes fell into four general
categories, based on the number of participants who reported similar
effects. They were insights or changes that were (1) transformational,
influencing change in many arenas of the individual’s life;
(2) related to self, that is, to the way they perceived or understood
themselves and how these affected actions they took in the world;
(3) related to connections or relationships with others that affected
their lives; and (4) related to choices they made in work or academic
These findings are important, I believe, for
the implications of this research. The perceived strong significance
of the experiences advocates for the need for further investigation
and practical application through conscious re-creation of venues
in which collective resonance can emerge and affect decision-making.
Recurrence of Felt Sense
under my leadership, in that place across the street, we
created something that was very unique. It was the best
. . . a world within a world . . . the human beings next
door to one of the most horrific things in the world. And
by doing that, I’ve experienced what it is I can .
. . what we’re capable of, and what I’m capable
In 30 of 32 interviews, participants reported
that they felt the same physical, emotional, psychological,
and energetic feelings that they had experienced in the collective
resonance situation that they had described in the interview.
Five people spontaneously noticed it during the interview, and
the rest responded to the final question asking about what they
were feeling at the moment. In each case the felt sense was
very similar to the original one, such as “energized,
excited, youthful,” “being in the flow,” “a
quickening in my heart area,” and “surreal.”
For many there were additional elements such a sense of loneliness,
emptiness, or loss from becoming aware of its absence in their
current lives, or regret that they had strayed far from the
valued feelings and lessons of resonance.
Although most accounts were positive in nature
because the original experience of collective resonance was
a positive one, one participant noticed that the same sense
of sadness and fear that he felt before the group shifted into
resonance also returned during the retelling.
Visible emotion in the form of tears or crying
often accompanied the remembering of the experience and was
related to the participants’ feelings of loss or absence
of resonance in their lives, mentioned above, or missing the
people with whom they had shared the experience. Several mentioned
that speaking about it had been healing or “nurturing
for the soul.”
In this section I reflect upon the findings
of this study and how they may fit together to answer the larger
questions: What is this “collective resonance” we
have been talking about, really, and how is it different from
what we already know about the way groups come together and
work together? Why is it important? How can we create situations
that enable collective resonance to emerge?
Although the goal of phenomenological inquiry
is to understand better a particular phenomenon by examining
descriptions of lived experience, which ultimately must be interpreted
by each individual reader of this research, I wish, in the following
pages, to attempt to interpret what I heard in my special role
in this endeavor. I use the identified themes of felt experience
and shifting factors to begin to piece together a theory of
what may be occurring during collective resonance, much like
working with puzzle pieces enable them to form into an image.
There are two assertions that I would like
to make based on the findings of this study. The first is that
human beings send, receive, and store information in all parts
of the body and that physical intelligence expands the traditional
notion of brain-centered activity to include sound-wave imprinting
on human cells. The second suggestion, following from the first,
is that human beings, communicating with themselves, with one
another, and with other forces in the universe, may be able
to achieve resonance at a sound-wave level through rhythm entrainment.
I discuss these findings briefly in the following pages and
then address why I believe this information is important, how
bodily intelligence and resonance can be enabled, and what future
directions the knowledge gained from this study might take.
Please refer to the complete dissertation for a more comprehensive
discussion of these topics.
wonderful . . . to experience, just for a moment, that energy
we had, and that it’s a wonderful thing that we can,
even all these years later, sit together and re-create that
connection. Even in this minute.
That nearly all of
the 34 participants in this study identified a felt sense in their
body during their experience of collective resonance supports
the claims of earlier researchers that every cell in the human
body vibrates and that the sound waves that are generated by the
vibrating cells, organs, and other parts of the human system affect
each other and other human beings (Childre & Martin, 1999;
Lynch, 2000; Pearsall, 1998; Schwartz & Russek, 1996). This
level of interaction, although not often in conscious awareness,
is happening all the time. Valerie Hunt’s (1996) suggestion
that the human energy field is linked to its psychological and
intellectual counterparts by emotion was substantiated in this
study as well, articulated as the widely shared emotional component
to the felt experience of collective resonance.
The second suggestion, that human beings, communicating
with themselves, with one another, and with other forces in the
universe, may be able to achieve resonance at a sound-wave level
by using rhythm entrainment is supported by other findings in
this study. Whereas intrapersonal resonance—resonance between
mind and body in the same human being—and its effect on
health has been explored (Childre & Martin, 1999; Hall, 1983;
Lynch, 2000), resonance on an energetic level between human beings
is very new. This is the arena to which this study contributes
Upon first learning about rhythm entrainment
in physics, I was intrigued with the fact that sound waves that
emanate from vibrating bodies merge into single, amplified waves
when they are vibrating at similar frequencies and thus result
in resonance. As mentioned earlier, this is a different phenomenon
than consonance, in which two separate sound waves come together
harmonically but do not become a single wave. I have held the
concept of entrainment throughout my research process, not knowing
how it related to the “magic” that I was studying
but knowing, on some level, that it does. I suspected that the
fact that the human body vibrates at every level, but particularly
in the heart region because of that organ’s powerful movement
and rhythm and the sound waves it must produce in the air around
it, were important aspects of what can occur when humans come
together physically. I wondered, early on, whether bodies in close
proximity, especially hearts, might have an effect on one another
similar to rhythm entrainment and when and how that might happen.
Were there certain situations, like the ones deemed collectively
resonant in this study, and my own, in which sound waves emanating
from human hearts actually get close enough in frequency to entrain
physically? What might that feel like? Under what conditions does
That beating hearts can have an influence on
other parts of the body they share and that one heart can affect
the brain waves of another person when they are in close proximity
has been demonstrated by research (Childre & Martin, 1999;
Hall, 1983; Hunt, 1996; Lynch, 2000; Pearsall, 1998; Schwartz
& Russek, 1996), but that sound waves generated by human hearts
close to one another might actually entrain, or become one, and
amplify, is new. In physics, the waves must be close or similar
enough in frequency to do this.
What does that mean, however, in terms of how
human beings sense, feel, think, and behave? When might wavelengths
coming from one human body be similar enough to those generated
by another body? What might be going on in each respective body,
mind, and spirit to create wavelengths of similar frequency? What
does greater amplitude, or power, feel like or produce? Does it
happen spontaneously or are there elements of the situation in
which human beings come together that “set the tone”
for the wavelengths to reach similar frequencies and become one?
fact that nearly all of the participants also reported a
recurrence of the initial felt sense suggests that these
messages are stored as memories in all parts of the physical
self, not only in the cognitive realm.
Over two-thirds of
my study participants felt a physical sensation, particularly
in the heart region, a profound sense of connection with others
in their groups, and an activation of emotions. These, I believe,
are related to one another and to several other findings to suggest
how entrainment might occur.
In addition to the above, during collective
resonance, individuals report a deep sense of connection with
themselves. This was mentioned outright by many participants and
described in various ways such as self-acceptance, discovery of
personal gifts or talents, integrating parts of self, and healing.
Why does this happen? The finding that truth
or authenticity is a widely shared influencer of group resonance
may provide a clue. Getting in touch with one’s own truth
and then articulating it to the group—related to what I
believe many participants described as story or storytelling and
expressed in a variety of forms such as speaking, dancing or moving,
or singing, for example—may be a source of self-connection.
Also, seeing oneself, or aspects of oneself, in others’
stories (called mirroring in psychology) may be another avenue.
This form contributes to interpersonal as well as intrapersonal
Other findings from the study are related as
well. Individual boundaries open or expand, allowing individuals
to connect or even experience a sense of oneness through vulnerability.
A feeling of vulnerability, enabled by a sense of physical or
emotional safety was the most widely reported factor that shifted
groups into resonance. This was expressed in many ways, including
a willingness to reveal parts of self, acknowledging a need for
help or answers, or feelings of fatigue or fear due to physical
danger or disaster. The reports of a need for the contraction
of the container (the physical space, experiences of tunnel vision
or being enveloped or encased, or creating small circles with
people’s bodies) is related to this creation of a feeling
Silence, too, was widely identified as a significant
shifter of groups into resonance. This was either literal silence,
which provided time to connect with oneself, or simply a quieting
of the cognitive processes long enough to feel the effect of physical
resonance and the ability to connect people.
I have presented themes of physical sensation,
self-connection, truth, story, vulnerability, boundary movement,
and silence. Taken together, I think that these themes convey
that within the experience of collective resonance there is a
very real getting in touch with what is true for the individual
occurring concurrently with a sense of connecting with others.
Perhaps they may be important clues to discovering how human wavelengths
become “similar” enough to entrain.
It may be that as human beings become more authentic,
more deeply in touch with themselves and what they believe, and
display behaviors that express this, that their energy fields
change. In physics, fundamental frequency (i.e., the frequency
at which an object most naturally vibrates) allows for the most
efficient use of energy. Human beings, too, as vibrating bodies,
have fundamental frequencies. In meditation, for example, it is
thought to be the entraining of the mind and heart to the natural
rhythm of the person’s breathing that helps reduce stress
and anxiety and leads to cardiac and overall physical health (Childre
& Martin, 1999). Perhaps getting in touch with and articulating
one’s own truth by participating with others in various
ways can also affect the waves that emanate from a person and
alter their electromagnetic field.
about speaking the truth. And when you hear the truth, you
relax. And if somebody says something to you and it doesn’t
feel like the truth to you, whether it’s conscious
or unconscious, you say, ‘We’re not on the same
playing field here.’”
Now, if several or
many people experience this shift simultaneously, such as in occurrences
of collective resonance, how might the wavelengths affect one
another? In rhythm entrainment, wavelengths of similar frequency
merge into a single wave and amplify. Could this be the felt sense
of an energy field, an altered consciousness, palpable high energy,
or the distinct sense of rhythm and movement reported by many
of my study’s participants? In the emotional realm, could
the widely shared reports of connection to others in the group
in the form of feelings of belonging, common humanity, or love
be another manifestation of the entrained energy waves? Is it
possible, further, that mention of spirituality, especially in
the secular realm in which most of the experiences described in
this study occurred, or a sense of connection to outside forces,
nature, or the universe may also be a form of entrainment, of
the group with larger collectives? At this point in the exploration,
these are only questions that arise from what has been revealed
in this study, suggesting, as good research should, more avenues
for exploration. I believe these are questions worthy of further
study and I will shortly point to some specific arenas for it.
I would like to mention, before ending this
section, the shadow side of collective resonance, something that
has haunted me since the beginning of this research. We are all
aware of what collective resonance turned toward the wrong purpose
can do, from cults and gangs to nationalistic movements formed
specifically for purposes of violence and destruction. What is
the difference between collective resonance and groupthink, a
collective psychological phenomenon that can lead to mob behavior
(Janis & Mann, 1977)?
I believe the difference lies in one essential
aspect of collective resonance, that there is a simultaneous connecting
with others and connecting with self. In groupthink, the connection
with others usually revolves around what I would call a third
party to the experience (i.e., an ideology, an idealized leader,
a perceived enemy, or a common cause or commitment). I believe
that when individuals bond around that third party, their beliefs
and actions can become evil, depending on the situation.
In collective resonance, there is no third party,
necessarily, around which the bonding occurs. The connection,
instead, is through the self, through internal authenticity and
truth-telling, which influences physiological and energetic processes
and, ultimately, entrainment with others who are doing the same.
Although there may be a specific collective purpose, it is the
inner component in collective resonance, indeed the key component,
that shifts the individual and the group into resonance, and possibly
affects the group’s connection with still larger forces.
This connection, then, can propel the group to achieve its goals,
if it has specific ones.
The Importance of Collective
Why is knowledge and application of what we now
know about collective resonance important? First, I believe it
is a pervasive phenomenon in society though it has not been, to
date, extensively studied. What leads me to this conclusion is
the ease with which I was able to locate a wide range of experiences
and the stories that continue to come forth as a result of distribution
of this work.
reported a sense of boundary movement, in other words, a
feeling that personal boundaries expand, open, or begin
“dancing” with the collective boundary.
Second, I believe
that collective resonance can have both individual and collective
positive health effects. Research has already shown the health
benefits of individual resonance, but in the organizational arena
too, meetings or work environments in which positioning, posturing,
or otherwise boundary-tightening or defensive behaviors leave
us with a sense of dissonance that underlies anger, fear, or dis-ease
and is stressful both for the individual and for the group attempting
to achieve a common goal. The overwhelmingly positive sensations
and memories reported by my participants, both in the original
experience and in the recurrence of it during the interview, and
the significance of it in fundamental work and life choices, are
seductive reasons to engage in collective resonance more frequently.
Third, understanding and applying what we know
about collective resonance more consciously can, perhaps, put
us on a path toward right action in the world. I believe this
happens in two ways: by making choices that result in creation
and sustenance of our selves and our natural world and also by
literally altering the energetic field around us so as to take
us to new levels of awareness and consciousness. I believe that
there are sources of intelligence in the universe that we have
only begun to access and allow to inform us. Greater knowledge
and practice of collective resonance can assist us in this endeavor.
A fourth reason that studies such as this one
(and the practices that they may spawn) are important is that
they encourage the integration of perceived opposites: East and
West, male and female, mind and heart, science and spirituality,
contemporary and indigenous cultures, and others.
people, it seems, have had collective resonance experiences
in their lifetimes and can access them when asked, but they
remain buried in physical and psychological memory in the
course of daily activity.
Finally, it is important
to remember that great things can and have been achieved by way
of the experience of collective resonance. Many of my interviewees
were engaged in group endeavors that sought to achieve something,
and extraordinary things were accomplished. In organizational
settings in particular, this is reason enough to engage in such
of the Study
Good research answers questions and poses many
more. I believe that this study has answered the initial question,
“How are diverse phenomena of collective resonance described
in terms of felt experience, awareness of shifts, assigned significance,
and consciousness of present-moment re-creation of experience?”
In the process, new questions have emerged that begin to point
to future directions for this work. They fall into two arenas:
additional research and practical application.
As this is at least the third study that specifically
inquired into collective processes in which resonance, intelligence,
or spiritual wisdom occur (Briskin et al., 2001; Levi, 2001) and
the results have proven to overlap to a considerable extent, there
seems to be emerging a validated base of knowledge from which
research can proceed. In terms of further inquiry, I believe it
is important to deepen knowledge about collective resonance from
various perspectives, such as studies in which this phenomenon
is explored from multiple perspectives on one group situation.
For example, would the seven suspects share the arresting officer’s
experience of collective resonance, and how might they describe
it? For this study I used primarily one participant’s perspective
on collective resonance because one of the purposes was to broaden
the inquiry to use many, diverse group situations. In a pilot
study that I conducted, I used the multiple-participant perspective
and found a great deal of similarity among various viewpoints.
I think a furthering of this approach would be beneficial to promoting
a deeper understanding of this phenomenon.
a world that should be coming together but feels most times
like it is coming apart, the convergence of different perspectives
and the emergence of the underlying commonalities between
them are critical to our future together as a world.
I think it is important,
too, to determine whether there might be physiological validation
of my theory of rhythm entrainment between human beings in groups.
In other words, I would like to know what the human heart is actually
doing in terms of heart rate and the frequency of the waves it
emits during collective resonance. Perhaps a situation could be
created in which a group of people assembles and incorporates
some of the elements that have now shown themselves to be elements
of experience or shifting factors in group resonance, such that
measurements of the activity of the individuals’ hearts
can be taken. I have already begun this process in collaboration
with individuals who can conduct such inquiry using technological
This research studied group situations in which
people were physically in close proximity. It did not include
at-a-distance situations such as those that are now possible with
technology. It would be important, it seems, to know whether energetic
exchanges occur across long distances and how, especially as people
now work, live, and communicate at greater physical distances
from one another.
I believe that there is also significant potential
for application of the findings from this study to conscious cultivation
of collective resonance in group situations by designing certain
elements into the group experience. Although collective resonance
is, in itself, worthy of re-creation for the intrinsic value of
connection (to self, other, and spirit) and health and well-being,
creating situations of this kind in work groups, for example,
can contribute to the accomplishment of necessary tasks. Some
of the design constructs that became apparent in this research
are the role of the physical setting, or the place itself in terms
of aesthetics and proximity to natural elements, arrangement of
seating and furniture (providing as few barriers to energetic
exchanges as possible), architectural elements (as in Feng Shui),
historical or future events that might provide context, and even
energetic clearing, rituals, or conscious intention for the gathering.
in fact, hearts are found to entrain rhythmically in certain
environments, there could be significant implications for
the health of individuals, groups, and organizations.
practices might also affect the emergence of collective resonance.
Using a storytelling format or questions that invite reflection
and honesty are examples. Even talking specifically about vulnerability
and how that might affect the organization and its members, including,
most importantly, the risks involved, would be valuable.
Finally, it is important that we know how to
observe and interpret physical and energetic messages to be able
to access information coming from our total selves. As we are
a brain-focused society in the West, many of us are simply not
aware of the many signals being delivered to us during the course
of our daily lives, in groups or alone, although as this study
reveals, when asked, we can indeed get in touch with where we
feel resonance. Training on the many different philosophies of
physical and energetic intelligence are available, including Native
American, Indian, Chinese, and many other cultural perspectives,
spiritual practices, and emerging technology-enhanced medical
resources. I suggest that we access and incorporate these avenues
to individual and organizational health.
Early in the dissertation I used the metaphor
of a prism to communicate my intent in this study. Much as a prism
that takes white light and separates out the various colors that
compose it, what needed to be made visible were the individual
“colors”—or the sounds—of the felt experience
of collective resonance so that it can be better understood and
re-created for more satisfying ways of living and working together
in the world. Although in these pages I have attempted to do that,
it is important to remember that white light, though composed
of many colors, is still white light. There is still the overall
magical experience available to us in groups that will never be
quantifiable, that retains the mystery and the magic in its wholeness.
As scientists we strive to understand our universe and the complex
relationships within it, but we never will, completely. This magic
deserves our respect and awe, from a distance, and although we
uncover pieces of it and strive to make our world better by applying
their wisdom, it is ultimately the mystery that makes life interesting.
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next steps toward cultivating collective resonance in organizational
settings would be, in my opinion, to use these findings,
especially the shifting factors, to generate discussion
in workgroups about their relevance to those specific environments.
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This research was conducted for the doctoral
program in Organizational Systems at:
Saybrook Graduate School and Research
747 Front Street, 3rd floor
San Francisco, California
Dennis Jaffe, Ph.D., Chair
Alan Briskin, Ph.D.
Prasad Kaipa, Ph.D.