By Trudy Summers and Paul Jackson
One year ago my nephew, Paul Jackson, invited a group of people to participate in a collaborative writing project called “What have you learned so far?” I joined in happily. We did not know each other‘s names and now, months later, we remain anonymous. We did know that we were a mix of ages with a variety of careers and that the group included religious believers, atheists, and agnostics. During the project we responded to the Templeton Foundation’s * “Big Questions”:
* Why are we here?
* How can we flourish?
* What is the fundamental structure of reality?
Each month Paul narrowed the Questions by focusing on topics such as love, death, suffering, the future, or transformation. We were encouraged not only to offer our own thoughts but also to include ideas from other sources with quotes that resonated with us. Although anonymity sometimes invites crudeness, in this project it allowed for intimate depth and tender soul-searching. The project held the hope that we might escape the “bubbles” of our individual perspectives and communicate with others in a way that doesn’t often happen in daily life.
Someone sent in a quote from Albert Einstein’s writing that summarizes the project theme – when we collaborate on ideas we have the ability to glimpse our fundamental connectedness:
“A human being is part of the whole called by us Universe, a part limited in time and space.
He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.
This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us.
Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
Nobody is able to achieve this completely but striving for such achievement is, in itself, a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.”
Here is a poem by Denise Levertov sent in by one of us that describes the awesome power of questions to stimulate connectedness:
Just when you seem to yourself
nothing but a flimsy web
of questions, you are given
the questions of others to hold
in the emptiness of your hands,
songbird eggs that can still hatch
if you keep them warm,
butterflies opening and closing themselves
in your cupped palms, trusting you not to injure
their scintillating fur, their dust.
You are given the questions of others
as if they were answers
to all you ask. Yes, perhaps
this gift is your answer.
Our writing project will be completed and published in December. The results of this collaboration blew me away. I believe there is more wisdom in the collective energies of the group than in the ideas of a single celebrity, philosopher, or “expert,” no matter how prominent they are. I have also come to realize that the act of writing itself stimulates thoughts and insights that are not triggered by just reading someone else’s thoughts.
In 2019, we plan to set up a platform for collaborative writing projects and constructive dialogues. This tool could be used by book clubs, study groups, family history projects, or for political discourse.
If you are interested in participating in the next collaborative writing project, send an email to me at – firstname.lastname@example.org.
WINN will be part of announcing the opening of the platform for collaborative projects after it has been set up in 2019.
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* The Templeton Foundation is a philanthropic organization that gives grants and generally supports research in religious and spiritual knowledge and especially at the intersection of religion and science.