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Deep Democracy

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Deep Democracy

World Work is processwork applied to small and large groups, communities and organizations, international events and earth based problems. 

Arnold Mindell, Sitting in the Fire (1995), p. 23.

For organizations, communities, and nations to succeed today and survive tomorrow, they must be deeply democratic – that is, everyone and every feeling must be represented.  

Arnold Mindell, The Deep Democracy of Open Forums, (2002) p. vii.

On This Page:  

Click here for more about Worldwork in Action 

Follow this link for some of Amy's writings on bringing deep democracy to life.

Worldwork is process oriented psychology applied to small and large groups, communities and organizations, international events and environmental problems.  And deep democracy is the core principle and practice of worldwork.

After many seminars in the 1980′s, Arny published his ideas about “Deep Democracy” in book form in 1992, as The Leader as Martial Artist: An Introduction To Deep Democracy, Techniques And Strategies For Resolving Conflict and Creating Community.” 

See also Arny’s books Sitting in the Fire, and The Deep Democracy of Open Forums.

Click here to read Amy and Arny’s short description of Deep Democracy and its application to politics, group process, creativity, and working with people in near death and comatose states.

Download and read Arny and Amy, on the state of worldwork, interviewed by Bill Say, just after the 2014 Worldwork seminar that brought together around 500 people in Warsaw, Poland. 

Arny Speaks about Worldwork, London 2008

In the following videos Arny speaks at the Worldwork conference in London, 2008 about Worldwork and Deep Democracy.

Thanks to Amy for having created the video, and Stanya Studentova, Arlene and Jean Claude Audergon, Anup Karia, Mark O’Connell and all the staff and participants for their contribution to that work. To learn more about the 2008 worldwork conference in London, please go to




Deep democracy

Democratic methods, rules, and laws alone do not create a sense of community. Rules and laws may govern mechanical systems, but not people. The new paradigm … acknowledges that organizations are partially mechanical beings…and also living organisms whose lifeblood is composed of feelings, beliefs, and dreams.“ Arny (2002) The Deep Democracy of Open Forums, p.4.

Deep democracy is a political philosophy, a way of working with people, and a feeling attitude, or “metaskill,” as Amy (2001) calls it. (Metaskills: The Spiritual Art of Therapy). link). 

Deep democracy brings democracy to life in the moment as a living reality. In deep democracy, everyone ‘wins’ in the sense of gaining more meaningful relationships and more sustainable resolutions. Amy Mindell, 2008, ‘Bringing deep democracy to life’ p. 213

Deep Democracy’s relationship to ‘regular’ democracy   

We conceive of deep democracy as an elder’s/facilitator’s multi-leveled awareness experience.

Democracy, as we all think of it today, is about citizen power, or in Greek, “Demo-Kratie” - government by the people. Democracy is important, –we all hope for equal rights and peaceful solutions. But because ordinary democracy focuses upon majority “rule,”  –that is power– it does not always include relationship ability or the deep feelings and dreams of community life. That is why democracy often fails when it comes to severe human tensions and conflicts.  Deep democracy includes this ordinary sense democracy, but goes further by including not only all voices, but also all levels of our experience.

Deep democracy needs all levels of experience

We have found that deep democracy needs to include at least three levels of consciousness:

1. Consensus reality: everyday realities, the facts and figures of people, issues, environment, history…

2. Dreamland: dream-like experiences and imagination, subjective feelings and qualitative experience that we can talk about but cannot prove to someone else (we call this level “dreamland”).   

3. The Essence level: the deepest experiences we have in deep sleep and pre-dreaming, including detachment. This deep level seems to be organized by what Arny calls your processmind. (Other names are “soul”, the “self”, the gods etc.) This processmind is a human “system-mind” and may possibly be nonlocal, that is applicable not only to the individual but to her whole community.

Practice and applications

Where can deep democracy be used?  Deep Democracy has been applied to all sorts of conflicts including terrorism, revolution, diversity issues of all sorts, economic problems, school conflict, climate change, large corporation tensions, government leadership questions etc.

In practice, a facilitator or group that understands deep democracy means listening closely to the issues and recognizing the various power and rank differences of people representing various sides. The facilitator watches their signals and tries to help them complete their ideas–if they need that help. Then the facilitator remembers that the various parts and people are “roles”.  She remembers she can dream about these roles as if they were all inside herself. The “other” and each role is a part of herself! She realizes that all the various parts in a conflict or discussion are actually roles that everyone has within themselves to a lesser or greater extent. Then she uses her own deepest self or processmind to gain distance and encourage people to dialogue. If they get stuck, she reminds them that the “other” is a role, a role that must be played out for it belongs not only to the “other”, but to all of us. With this understanding, people can explore “role switching” which often leads to amazing experiences and resolutions.

We liked this description of deep democracy by Nick Totton:

“In fact, there are many facilitators around the world working in global ‘hotspots’ on issues of conflict and reconciliation, bringing together members of hostile communities — Palestinians and Israelis, Serbs and Croats, Irish Catholics and Protestants — and finding ways for them to recognise their shared humanity and start to communicate. […]

This is what the well-known psychotherapist Arnold Mindell calls ‘deep democracy’, which, he says, rests on ‘that special feeling of belief in the inherent importance of all parts of ourselves and all viewpoints in the world around us’ . As Mindell emphasises, deep democracy is an ancient and universal concept and experience; it is surely also central to what therapy is all about, both with individuals and with groups.

Perhaps, then, we have something to offer the wider world as it struggles to deepen democracy on every level, to move from ‘majority rule’ — or even ‘money/power rule’ — to control over our own lives. This struggle seems to me even more urgent in the light of the ecological crisis and the threat of climate change: not only do governments need to listen to their peoples, but human beings need to listen to the voices and needs of other species and the whole planetary ecosystem: deep democracy means deep ecology.” Nick Totton, (February 2007) ‘Democracy and therapy’, Therapy Today, 18.1.

Deep Democracy in the Theater

In July of 2019, Phelim McDermott, an English actor, director, and co-founder of Improbable Theater, incorporated Deep Democracy principles into his show “The Tao of Glass.” The set design mirrored Deep Democracy principles and Phelim spoke about Deep Democracy as the show wove in and out of Deep D’s 3 levels. The show was a collaboration between Phelim and composer Phillip Glass. For a review about the show from the British newspaper, The Guardian, click here. You can find another review here as well as a radio interview with Phelim and Phillip Glass by clicking here).

Is There Worldwork And Deep Democracy Training For Individual Organizations?

Yes. Individuals can train in organizational structure and group process. Whole organizations can train in processing their own issues. There are two basic ideas that can be useful to organizations:

  • The first is that the organization itself is a ghost role; that means that the “spirit” of the organization is a role that needs to be represented and speak for itself.

  • And the second basic idea is that on-site training supports everyone by teaching skills for all levels of experience: inner, relationship and organizational group process methods.

Click here for more examples of Worldwork in action

A Brief Lesson About Roles, Role Switching, And Ghost Roles. 

During one of our facilitator training seminars in 2005, Amy enjoyed presenting the concepts of roles, ghost roles, and role switching in a new and simple way. Here she recreates that presentation in the form of a fun comic strip.

Download the presentation, A Brief lesson about roles.

Arny mentions safety in his books from a variety of perspectives because it is a complex issue and not just a program that can be instituted and insisted upon as it is around the world.

Safety is an experience that interests everyone. We are all living human beings, and sensitive to life and death. Vulnerability makes us all interested in safety, fear for our well being and the well being of others. We know from Worldwork experience that safety is a perception that depends upon the person’s individuality, race, age, health, gender, sexual orientation, culture, dreams, nationality, and so forth. For example, if something is marginalized or rejected by your conscious mind, you are constantly afraid and “in danger” of a reaction from that “something” within yourself, often projected onto the outside world.

In large group and Worldwork settings, safety experiences are central issues. Mainstream people rarely feel safe because they often ignore or marginalize other people – not just inside themselves, but also in the world. So they – or we — are afraid of retaliation from marginalized people and groups they – or we – have marginalized. Marginalized groups and individuals who have been ignored or hurt by others rarely feel safe anywhere. Because of the deep democracy paradigm, in Worldwork settings all experiences are important. Deep democracy means that the experiences of those of us who have been marginalized (as well as the feelings of mainstream folks) are encouraged, even when pain may temporarily frighten some.

Thus, a complex dynamic arises when one group or individual explores marginalization, and also her feelings of pride, power and ability to speak about subjects which have “never” been said before. Speaking out creates all kinds of feelings in everyone. Some are afraid; others are touched so deeply, they are moved to tears. In the sense of deep democracy, each and everyone’s feelings are important as part of the emerging community awareness process. This process increases everyone’s sense of safety as awareness of rank and privilege, power and its abuses comes forward.

Learning to sit in the heat of such interactions is not merely a matter of reading about it. Not even good intentions suffice, as most of us know. Everywhere people are trying to learn how to create a facilitative atmosphere. This is a highly complex topic requiring as much inner work, and reflection on one’s own life, as academic study of history and outer work. Facilitators must learn as much as possible about outer issues and events and also about the truth of dreaming. She or he must learn that invisible spirits move through the air making everyone nervous, though most of us feel too shy or unconscious to voice what those spirits are saying.

The facilitator must awaken her own sensitivities to notice “dreaming,” and the manner in which it represents itself in the imaginations of us all, in the ghosts within, and in whole nations. Her training must in some sense allow her to bring these ghosts forward, and encourage herself and everyone to play these ghosts. This work is a mixture of seriousness because of the horror and abuses of history, and shamanistic creativity because of the social, awesome elements of dreaming. Processes often switch from seriousness to play, from one to the other in seconds as trouble turns toward freedom and play.

That facilitator, by the grace of someone’s god, manages, with her community, to raise awareness to the point where ghost roles and voices that cannot speak are finally represented. She or he can now oversee the unfolding of deep democracy. Such facilitation now makes the term “safety” seem like a totally inadequate word. Better terms for such group processes are “Community,” “sense of meaning,” “belonging,” “sense of life’s task” and perennial human goals. Such a facilitator knows that she is incapable of doing all this alone. She is in a role that belongs to the wisdom of the community. Finally, safety is the name of a process of community making, in which each of us realizes we rest upon the shoulders of our neighbors.

Our lives and deaths depend upon the other, as we rediscover, if only for a moment that we love them, even though a few moments earlier we may have feared them. But such amazing moments occur only when there has been awareness of the dynamics of interaction, where training and patience have lead us to the moment where we are all facilitating, noticing and holding down hot spots (emotional, amazing, or terrifying moments) and edges, (moments in individual life when the unknown has been marginalized).

Thus, safety laws are important but will never be sufficient. We need more than a political safety process; we need everyone’s growing consciousness and awareness of a deeper democracy.

Revised and extended from Arny’s answer to a question about “Safety as a Political Issue” that appeared on the process work string, in August 2000. Thanks to Phyllis Kramer.

For more on safety, see the section beginning p. 57 in Arny’s “Deep Democracy Of Open Forums”. 

Politics can be defined as “…a process by which collective decisions are made within groups” (Wikipedia).  Thus, every time we explore what aspects of ourselves are making decisions, we are involved in politics.

For us, politics means becoming aware of inner processes, and the decision-making aspects of friendships, groups and worlds. Processwork, and all psychologies and deeply democratic procedures are ultimately political. In a way, Processwork almost by definition, is a political movement, and sees each individual and group as forwards a certain kinds of “politics.”

From the usual viewpoint, politics amounts to power, popularity, and who and what runs the world. Politics operates in various ways, through democratic election, tyranny, money or luck. From the process oriented viewpoint, politics is a matter of “roles” – such as the role of the leader, the participant, and all the other various possible people and objects. These roles are not just real, but they are also shared, nonlocal experiences that each person has within her or himself. Like Worldwork in general, politics thus becomes a matter of roles, poles, and the dreaming background including visions, and the power of the earth. Today, leadership in any sense includes not just awareness of the consensus reality situation, but also nonlocal shared roles, and the power of the earth.

Occupy the Future

Socialism didn’t work. Capitalism is full of problems. History shows that demolishing old or creating new political and financial systems may help temporarily, but has never been sufficient to resolve our human problems. You can kill the “big boss” so to speak, but not the inner tendency of everyone to be a “boss”. It’s a role in everyone! Each of us — yes everyone! – can be unconscious of dominating others by ignoring or not noticing feedback. So…while fighting the unwitting use of power today, we need to also explore new awareness-based political systems, with people trained in democracy, or deep democracy’s group process awareness.

Together, everyone’s awareness of oneself, friends and organizations can help world change. … Of course there will always be conflicts and troubles…but in principle we may be able to move through them more quickly than we do now, with our present worldwide political systems. So…yes, Occupy! Occupy and express the role of the boss, then Occupy and express the deep-seated sense of the community’s power, then follow the dialogue…and help things change!

This is a different model for ‘doing’ leadership: “If you strive to do too much, you may be relying on the use of power instead of awareness. Insecurity occurs if you try to do something without feeling inspired. We don’t need you as a leader for world change. Change is inherent in people and nature. You need awareness, not only power, to notice and follow the changes.”  Deep Democracy of Open Forums, (2002).


Deep democracy in US politics

Ralph Nader called for a “deep democracy” during his campaign for the US Presidential elections in 2000, interviewed by Jim Lehrer, Newshour, PBS.

RALPH NADER  “I think I’d issue a proclamation for a deep democracy. I think what I would say to the American people…”

JIM LEHRER: A deep democracy?

RALPH NADER: Right. I would say to the American people: “it’s our responsibility as your representatives in government to facilitate your political and civic energies.”  (Newshour, PBS, June 30, 2000)

See also Hentoff, Nat. (10 October, 2000). A Vote for Deep Democracy. The Village Voice.   

Amy's Mr President

Amy's Mr President

Mr President and Citizen Diplomacy

The President (or the political leader) of any country is a real woman or man, and at the same time a role in every culture worldwide. Whether we like her or him or not, much power is associated with, projected upon, or unconsciously transferred to such figures. By realizing they are roles in our thoughts, our conversations and our actions, we can retrieve “their” power, and notice our own capacity to be citizen-diplomats wherever we are.

Amy’s “Mr President” is meant to represent the multidimensionality of such figures. She created her puppet version of this “role” using foam, children’s clothes and other materials. Look, experience, imagine, interact with and re-create your own new diplomacy, the leadership we need.

New Orleans, 2007 … Worldwork, Geophysics and Politics

There is always a lot of blaming or “fingerpointing” around difficult world events. For example, the US news is still asking who is responsible for the broken levees and flooding of the city of New Orleans in Louisiana, USA (NOLA) after Katrina hit that city in September of 2005. The levees protecting NOLA broke during the storm.  Various groups have said the US Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for inadequate construction. But the US Army says the local and federal government is responsible.  Some have said racism was the reason the levees were left in an inadequate condition.

In any and all cases, today the people of NOLA are all faced with the interaction between the forces of local and federal government systems, social systems, the climate, the geophysics of the earth, New Orleans culture, mythology and dreaming.

To understand this situation, each of us ought to ask ourselves; “If you know it might be dangerous to live in your room, but can’t find the time or money to make it safer, who is to blame?  Culture, classism, racism, ageism, engineering, and/or fate?”

Today, there is reconstruction going on at various rates and at all levels in NOLA.  But we hope everyone will think about, and learn to deal with devastating community problems such as Katrina, before they occur again.  We need (and are working on) methods that deal with each issue individually, and at the same time, with the entire city “field”.  Thanks for your comments on this topic. 

In preparing for our worldwork facilitator training in New Orleans in the fall of 2007, we studied the complex process of city rebuilding. This process includes the connections between intercultural dialogue and the power of the environment as it manifests for example in hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes. We are revising our thinking about what it means to care for our fragile human well being and social equality, while remembering nature.  What are the roles and the marginalized “ghost” roles, in the city, state, country…and planet?

Why “white” instead of “White people”?

A reader of Arny’s Sitting in the Fire, asked about Chapter 3 that discusses rank. She wanted to know why Arny capitalized the names of many peoples, such as Aboriginal Australians, Latinos, Africans, Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, but did not capitalize whites?

The answer is that in the mid 1990’s, Arny was (and still is) trying to compensate for the overwhelming rank given to white people over others in many parts of the world. But the more complete answer is that compensating for rank, by lowering one’s status (e.g. from White to white)  is only the beginning of social action.  It is not sustainable, because in the grandest sense of deep democracy which includes all worlds, everyone has equal value.  Moreover, every experiential level has equal value, (even if we still occasionally emphasize Dreaming over Consensus Reality ).